Seventeen Tired White People In a Room: John McCain Gives the Single Worst Speech In the History of American Politics

First of all, John, you weren't in New Orleans.

You were in Kenner, Louisiana. I have spent a fair amount of time in both Kenner and New Orleans, and believe me, the people who live there are acutely aware of the difference. (And, should they forget, they can always check the address on their mail, or ask a neighbor.) The competition in CYO basketball alone runs at fratricidal levels. So your very first words were stunningly dumb.

And not only wrong, not only dumb, but wrong, dumb, and mis-pronounced: it's not New Or-lee-eyens, as any resident of New Orleans (or Kenner) will insist on telling you: it's New Or-lins. Down there in New Orleans -- sorry, I mean Kenner -- these are life-and-death issues.

So: one sentence into the single worst speech in the history of American politics, in front of what looked like seventeen tired white people in a room, John McCain -- comb-over plastered down, grinning inanely, with his strange collection of jowls and wattles a-quiver at various tempos (a separate flopping-rhythm to every fleshy sac, in a display of trembling facial-jelly unmatched since the heyday of Jesse Helms) -- had:

a) proved he didn't know where he was,

b) showed he was too lazy to even ask a random passer-by the name of the city he wrongly believed himself to be in, and

c) beamed out to America -- for the first but unmercifully not the last time on a crucial night of political theater--that bizarre frozen rictus of a grin that he quite wrongly thinks is charming and down-home.

Mere seconds into an address that gladdened Obama supporters everywhere and drove giant ripples of buyer's-remorse down the gut of every Obama-hating white Clinton supporter, John McCain had proudly displayed his Wooden Soldier persona to the world.

It was a miscalculation of stunning proportions -- not just by McCain, but by the once-fearsome Republican strategists who'd propped him up in front of that eye-torturing green backdrop. How the mighty have fallen: last night, we witnessed the arrival of the Anti-Reagan, the pitiful obverse of the Great Communicator. Here, instead, was the Grating Obfuscator, mangling an already-terrible speech like some mildewed Howdy Doody being worked by an arthritic puppeteer.

His ideas were puerile -- and his ideas were the best part of the speech. He turned instantly-forgettable phrases into unforgettable moments of black comedy, at one point so garbling the phrase "change in strategy" that it almost came out as "strange in tragedy" -- which would have been a far better description of his support for the war than any he gave in his remarks.

For the love of God, you should pardon the expression, is nobody coaching this man? At several points he actually spoke the phrase "heh-heh-heh" as if reading it from a Teleprompter. He paused after what he believed to be winning lines, blatantly milking applause from those seventeen worn-out white folks (and here's a Note to John: when the applause is so sparse that you can actually hear and identify the separate clapping-patterns of individual clappers, dispense with the dramatic pauses.)

Worst of all was The Blinking. It should be against the law to hustle John McCain in a poker-game, because his "tell" is so freaking obvious: whenever he's spoken a lie that he knows flat-out is a lie, he stops dead in his tracks and suddenly performs a nightmarish combo of The Rictus and The Blink, a rapid eye-flutter that reads like a Bettie Boop parody and should not be attempted by anyone even vaguely male.

Do I focus more on theater than on substance? Well, so did McCain. And so did Ronald Reagan, for that matter, but according to popular opinion -- one I have always been unable to share, since my loathing for the man put the whammy on objective judgement -- Reagan played his games of political three-card-monte with skill and charm. The fact that the Republican Party has fallen on such hard times that it can only offer a John McCain as their presidential candidate means that not only have they lost their Reagans, but they have lost their Michael Deavers, Lee Atwaters, and (vintage) Karl Roves as well. And that loss is the truly critical one.

Case in point: Republican strategists knew that Obama would be taking the stage an hour later to deliver a typically hypnotic speech in front of an SRO house of ecstatic devotees. So the fact that they threw McCain into the gladiator-pit of American TV armed only with his own charisma -- which, of course, is to say without any weapons at all -- is further proof that it's now Amateur Hour at the GOP. To which -- John Hagee and Jeremiah Wright aside -- one can only say: thank God.